This morning, well every Wednesday morning, with no exceptions, (even when I am worse for wear after a few beers) I woke up at 8am, lit up a cigarette and made myself banana on toast and a slice with a scraping of butter for my best friend Smokie. 8.30am, I hooked Smokies spare lead onto his collar and we walked down to the beach. The feeling of the fine grains of sand between my toes feels like silk between my fingertips. A feeling that I have loved ever since I can remember. A feeling that reminds me of Home. Smokie ran like mad into the waves as I threw his favourite ball. He ran fast and free as if nothing can stop him, and obediently he returns his toy to me to throw again. This takes us until 9.45am where we both, wet and sandy, go to see Mrs Young and buy the days papers, fresh milk and a treat for after dinner. The rest of the day is not as systematic as the beginning. Wednesday is the only morning I get to sleep in as it is one of 2 days I don’t have to join the ratrace of commuters heading into the city to work, visit family or go shopping. Wednesday belongs to Smokie and I which would not be changed for all the tea in China.
Let me introduce myself. Back on the 31st January 1990, when I was born, my parents proudly named me William Grant Higgins. William was my father’s name, and also my grandfather’s and great grandfather’s and my great great grandfather’s name. Strangely enough, it was also my mother’s fathers name so it was inevitable I was going to be landed with it. Grant was my mother’s maiden name and the name I preferred to be known by. Both of my parents are still alive and married to each other and I have a younger sister. There’s not much of a story to tell. I neither excelled nor failed at school. I stayed out of trouble and left at 16 to work in the family business. We own and run bookshops that have been passed down through generations and have 5 outlets nationally. We are also one of the few remaining places people can actually buy and read physical books. Caress the covers and smell the pages. Watch as the words jump out at you and tell their own story. They are like time machines, transporting you to any part of the word, any planet and any moment in time with great ease. You can learn the lives and loves of well known people and those who have made a difference and you can also get inside a strangers mind as they hold your imagination with tales of love, murder and more recently, zombies. Stories they have made up purely in their own mind for your entertainment. Even though I’m only 26 and should be embroiled with technology, I will never give up physical books, I would never want to.
As you’ll have gathered, today is Wednesday and after our beach stroll, I’m catching up with the news in our local area. The village fete is on this Sunday, the local school is having a good old fashioned cake sale. I say old fashioned but the theme is Famous Cupcakes. I don’t even know what that means. I turned the page and instantly recognise the face staring at me. Matthew Gilhide. Matthew, or Matt as he was called, was a guy I knew from our local pub which is aptly named The Local. He used to be landlord there but his drinking habits put an end to that and it was now run by a lovely couple. Matt was still a heavy drinker but also managed to hold down a full time job working off shore on the oil rigs. 3 weeks away, 2 weeks home and every night of these 2 weeks were spent downing pints of bitter in The Local. In fact, I had only just seen Matt on Sunday evening.
Matt was in no way a fan of mine. He hated the fact I loved books and assumed that as he hadn’t met my girlfriend Millie, I was gay and was shagging my dog. Yes, he was that type of idiot. I tried to avoid The Local if I knew he was there but it had been a good week at work and a lovely evening so Smokie and I went along for a drink. Sunday night was always a sociable night with karaoke and cheap drink promotions. I didn’t partake in either and instead ordered an ice cold pint of lager and sat in the corner with a book to keep Smokie and I company.
“Oi!! Bookworm!” Here we go again. “Get up here and sing us a song.” His voice boomed across the pub. I ignored him. “Bookworm! I’m talking to you! Get up here and sing Puppy Love to your 4 legged boyfriend!” He started laughing hysterically. Nobody else joined him. “Come on, that was funny.” He threw his hands up in surrender. “OK ok. I forgot you were a bunch of dog lovers. Not as much as Bookworm tho!” Again the hysterical laughter began. “So you got a boyfriend yet? Oh I forgot, you have an invisible girlfriend.” The more I ignored him the more he spoke. Until he eventually came over to my table and grabbed my book from the table. I don’t know if people were actually scared of him or fed up with him but I did hear a few seats shuffling. He looked at the book and threw it. “Pretending you can read little boy? You don’t fool me or any of us with your little bookshop and this ugly mutt. You’re a queer and we don’t like your type here.” With that, the landlord came over and asked him to leave. “You’ve been told before to stop harassing people. Especially Grant. Go and sober up.” Matt was not happy. “You’re taking a queers side over me!? Are you one of them are ya? You’re all sick in the head. Get me out of this queer pub. Sickos” With these parting words, he stumbled out of the doors and the lively atmosphere in the pub resumed. This was the reason I avoided him. Every single time, without a shadow of a doubt, I’d be the butt of his jokes. There was no let up, no break and absolutely no reason for him to treat me this way. But he did. Continuously.
By closing time around 11.30pm, I had polished off 4 or 5 pints and we set off for home. It was an easy 15 mins walk along the clifftops that led down to the beach. I always had Smokie on his lead as these cliffs were high and care was needed. Especially if I had had a couple. As we were walking, Smokie stopped in his tracks and started snarling a little then continued walking.
Something had struck me in the back of the head. I turned to see Matt stumbling towards me. He threw another stone but it missed, bouncing on the ground beside Smokie and causing him to bark furiously at the drunken shadow staggering over.
“Bookworm’s pulled!! Your 4 legged boyfriend must be up for it. You sick, twisted, weirdo. Go back to your book shop and die. Nobody likes you here.”
As is said before, this was kind of a regular occurance for us so we turned and kept walking. I did not the expect the turn in events that followed.
I had no idea what was happening. Not only was my vision blurred, but the distinctive taste of iron and mud on my tongue informed me that my mouth was bloody and I was possibly lying face down in the dirt or on the beach. As I tried to focus, I could see the soft brown colour of Smokies fur under the artificial light of the streetlight. I tried to call him but no sound came out. I attempted to lift my head but it felt as though there was a ton weight sitting on it. What was going on? What’s happened to Smokie?
“What’s wrong? Did the poor boy fall over? Awww do you need a hand to your feet?” I held my hand up and he grabbed it and dragged me along the hard ground on my stomach for what felt like miles. I could hear Smokie barking furiously. Angrily. “Think you’re smart getting me thrown out the boozer!? Not so smart now are you? Pathetic. You and that bloody dog.” Matt was lying on top of me and I could barely breath under his weight. He was right at the side of my face and his spluttering words were accompanied by sprays of beer filled saliva drops. He was vile. I couldn’t see clearly but could hear the waves crashing on the rocks. He lifted himself up and with a hard, swift kick to my side, he seemed to stagger off. Smokie was still barking and I could hear him growling and then squealing as if he had been hurt. It wasn’t clear, but I could hear that man shouting at him. He must’ve had him tied up against something. His footsteps got nearer to me again. What on earth was happening? I could only think of 1 outcome here… he was going to kill me!! I lifted my head and managed to get to my knees. “Oh no you don’t!” A flash of light and I was gone.
I must’ve been unconscious for hours as when I came around, the very first signs of daylight were beginning to show. It was raining and I was soaked through, as was Smokie who was lying by my side licking my cheek with his soft tongue. What had happened? Why was I lying here face down on the ground? I got up onto my knee but the excruciating pain in my head made the world spin and caused my eyes to flicker rapidly. I could barely breath without the pain in my ribs reminding me of the vicious attack. I looked down at my blood stained clothes and at Smokie. Smokie looked different. I don’t know why or how, but he looked different. Calm. That changed as he realised I was getting myself together, his tail was wagging and I swear he was laughing. He was licking my face and jumping around excitedly, circling me like a little puppy wanting to play. The previous evenings events were beginning to return to me. The Local, the abuse from Matt. Matt? Matt? Hold on, I was here because of Matt. He had done this to me. Beat me up and harmed Smokie. Left us here. How did Smokie get free and where was Matt now!? Probably nursing a hangover and feeling proud of himself. I pulled myself to my feet and looked at my watch. 5.22am. Smokies lead was broken but he walked obediently by my side. Every inch of my body ached. I managed the short walk home, ran a bath and had a soak. The only visible signs of the assault were the burst nose and pudding lip. My eyes were also swollen and I would imagine, would turn a nice shade of black and blue in a couple of days. The bruising on my ribs was already deep purple, and the most painful reminder of all. Once the dried blood was washed away, there was little evidence. After my soak, I took myself to bed, where I stayed until this morning. The only person I spoke to was Lucy at work and of course Millie. Millie was on a hen week away so there was no need to worry her with the incident.
That brings me back to the here and now. The face of Matthew Gilhide staring back at me from page 5. The photo accompanying the story of how a member of our small village found his lifeless body on the beach in the early hours of Monday morning. The body was found at the bottom of the cliffs and for the moment, nobody was being sought in connection with his death. I had no idea that Matt was dead.
Something in my head is not ringing true. The more I look at the photo and read the article, there is a memory in there that I can’t get out. What happened on the cliffs that night? I can’t have killed him. Could I? He knocked me unconscious. I remembered him hitting me. That was my last memory. I looked at Smokie. I had to use an old lead this morning for our walk. If only he could talk. He could tell me what happened. The more I’m thinking, the more I think I’m going mad. Is it possible that Matt was leaving to go home and just slipped over the edge? Did we struggle but I can’t remember it? Smokies lead has been broken. Could he have broken free to save me from this drunken rage that was being taken out on me? I looked over at him. He’s licking his paws. I wonder. I lifted myself over to him and looked at his paws. His pads were raw and he had broken a nail. Has man’s best friend carried out the ultimate act of loyalty? Surely not. I checked his paws again and looked into his eyes, he stared back. His eyes were bright and shining. Was he hiding a secret?